When the Bishop of Bayonne asked him to preach the Gospel to surfers, Fr René-Sébastien Fournié made a beeline for the beaches of Biarritz on the Atlantic coast of France and started taking surf lessons so he could have direct contact with his new flock.
- Vatican Insider
Of course initially, the men and women who were riding the waves of the Atlantic Ocean were rather astonished by this priest who turned up in his traditional cassock asking for surf lessons. 'I was really worried I would be hopeless at it,' the priest admitted in a statement to French newspaper Sud Ouest.
The surfers were not hostile towards Fr Fournié, just a bit indifferent perhaps: 'Our conversations moved forward quickly because these are people who have a deep respect for nature and the laws of nature. Nature is the starting point for reaching nature’s creator!' the priest said.
The fact he was into sport as a child – he did a lot of skiing and fencing – was an advantage: 'The way you position your legs on the surf board is the same as the position you adopt for fencing.
'This helped me a great deal. But I’m still at beginner’s level.'
After a while, the surfing community started listening to him and friendships developed: 'Some of them even came to mass in the cathedral and asked me if they could be altar boys!' he said. This is proof of the apostolate’s success. This apostolate is carried out 'in the spirit of the new evangelisation, which our bishop gives a great deal of importance to,' he explained.
Fr Fournié openly admits that the spirit of his training is very much Roman if not traditionalist. He lived in Rome for six years and wears his cassock as a clear sign of his identity as a priest. It allows him to have very deep conversations with people who don’t go to church deliberately.
'It’s anything but an obstacle', he contends, and judging by the long list of roles he has been given, his bishop clearly trusts him fully: apart from surfing, the 39-year-old became chaplain of Bayonne Cathedral after just six years in the priesthood. He also teaches theology at the Seminary and is a judge at the local ecclesiastical court.